Yesterday, the United States House of Representatives passed a package of policing bills that included Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s Invest to Protect Act (H.R. 6448), which provides grant funding for law enforcement agencies for hiring and retention bonuses and overtime costs. H.R. 6448 also includes funding for certain types of law enforcement training, such as training for officers who interact with people from vulnerable populations.
Increasing police officer training on interacting with individuals from vulnerable populations, such as those with substance use or mental health disorders, without adequately funding mental health and social services professionals, overlooks the fact that these types of distress should not be matters of law enforcement. Indeed, when calls to 911 regarding people with substance abuse or mental health disorders, for example, are routed to police, they often lead to the criminalization of distressed persons in need of social services or health care, rather than to measures that address their underlying needs. Moreover, the data collection measures regarding officer and community safety that are included in the bill are vague and far removed from the critical steps needed to build veritable public safety and address law enforcement violence.
The package passed by the House also included three other bills: the VICTIM Act (H.R. 5768), which allows the Justice Department to create a grant program allocating funding for law enforcement agencies for uses such as retaining or hiring detectives, upgrading forensic equipment, and ensuring victims of crimes have access to necessities, such as food and housing; the Break the Cycle of Violence Act (H.R. 4118), which provides funding for community violence intervention programs; and the Mental Health Justice Act (H.R. 8542), which provides funding to train and assign mental health professionals to respond to incidents involving those undergoing mental health crises or other emergencies, including while operating within law enforcement agencies.
In response to the passing of the package of policing bills, Janai S. Nelson, Legal Defense Fund (LDF) President and Director-Counsel, issued the following statement:
“We applaud the passage of legislation designed to address the underlying issues of safety in communities. Specifically, the Break the Cycle of Violence Act provides critical support to evidence-based methods designed to substantially reduce violence — such as community-based violence intervention and prevention programs, job training and work experience opportunities for youth impacted by gun violence, as well as community outreach programs. Interventions that reduce violence, including police violence, are critical to creating sustainable safety for Black communities.
“While this evidence-based investment is welcome, we are deeply concerned about the inclusion of the Invest to Protect Act, which fails to address the realities of communities struggling to achieve public safety. This moment, and the communities themselves, requires the concerted support of interventions proven to advance community safety, such as investments in affordable housing, increased economic security, access to quality health care, and enhanced infrastructure. Instead, this bill increases investments in policies that have continually failed to address the problems of violence and crime, and, in many instances, have further exacerbated the very issues they purportedly intend to address.
“We call upon the Senate to prioritize evidence-based strategies proven to enhance public safety, such as those found in the Break the Cycle of Violence legislation, and to reject proposals that have been proven to undermine public safety.”
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.